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Letter: Lib Dems Did Not Support Unseemly Rush to Draft a Local Plan

Published on: 11 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 11 Sep, 2014

Local Plan Letters imageFrom Liz Hogger

This letter is in response to a comment from Ben Paton attached to a reader’s letter: Parish Forum Survey Results Are Unsurprising

As a Lib Dem councillor for a green belt village, I am puzzled by Ben Paton’s suggestion that the Lib Dems have supported the Draft Local Plan at every stage of the way, except the final vote. (I’m glad he deigned to notice that one.)

It is important for the borough that we have an up-to-date Local Plan, and it was right for Lib Dem councillors to support that initial process to prepare a plan. But we have never supported the unseemly rush to put together a draft plan before the council had even decided what the housing target should be, and before we had any reassurance that the infrastructure to support so many houses was deliverable.

Ben Paton seems to have overlooked Lib Dem support for the many criticisms made about the evidence base, particularly the notorious Green Belt and Countryside Study, which resulted in the full council agreeing my proposal for public involvement in scrutinising the reappraisal of the evidence base.

And how could he have forgotten that it was a Lib Dem councillor, Tony Phillips, who proposed at a Scrutiny Committee meeting that the housing target was too high and should be subjected to a thorough review?

The Conservative leaders have not given us that review yet, which is just one of the reasons why Lib Dem councillors opposed the Draft Local Plan going to consultation. But we are determined the review will happen, and that the will of the Scrutiny Committee shall prevail.

In the past I have respected Ben Paton’s views and criticisms of the Local Plan process, so I am really sorry that his new-found political allegiance (to the party that gave us this flawed Local Plan) seems to have affected his memory.

Everyone who wants to see this flawed [draft] plan replaced by a fair Local Plan, providing the infrastructure to support the housing we genuinely need whilst still protecting our environment and Green Belt, should be working together, not indulging in party-political point-scoring. Shame on you Ben Paton.

Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem councillor for Effingham at Guildford Borough Council.

Ben Paton is the Conservative candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election. A list of all the candidates standing in the Lovelace by-election, which will take place on Thursday, September 25th, can be found in the article: It’s Officially a Four-horse Race For the Lovelace By-election.

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Responses to Letter: Lib Dems Did Not Support Unseemly Rush to Draft a Local Plan

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 11, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Thanks to Liz for the clarification. Unfortunately the council leader’s ‘trajectory’ for the plan is marching on with a massively inflated housing target underpinning it.

    When is the executive going to abide by the scrutiny committee’s clear instruction to revise and reduce the housing target from 652 p.a? The have ignored this until now and there is no sign they plan to even review the number.

  2. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    September 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Could Liz please set the record straight with Cllr Angela Gunning and the public? Cllr Gunning states about the Draft Local Plan: “… prior to that it had been through the joint scrutiny committee [jsc].”

    Her comment seemed to wrongly imply to the public that the jsc approved the plan and the numbers within it. It didn’t. The GBC Executive and all those who voted for publishing the plan wilfully ignored a committee which, one would assume, is designed to hold the Executive to some form of account and keep it in check. That, surely, is its purpose.

    People, especially councillors should be very careful in what they say, especially where an incorrect inference could be drawn.

    I hope Cllr Gunning will correct the implication she was making with regards to the Joint Scrutiny Committee approval for the draft local plan.

    • Cllr Liz Hogger Reply

      September 12, 2014 at 9:03 am

      My recollection is that several other points of concern about the Draft Local Plan were raised by councillors at the Joint Scrutiny Committee meeting, which were not taken into account in the final version that went on to the Executive and then Full Council.

      But the housing number review, affecting Policy 2, was perhaps the most important concern and it is quite outrageous that the review was not carried out in public before the council was asked to agree to the Draft Local Plan going out to consultation.

      Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

  3. Michael Bruton Reply

    September 11, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    May I ask whether Cllr Hogger supports the plans to build 300+ homes on the site of the Howard of Effingham School and to relocate that school onto green belt land ?

    The Horsley & Clandon Borough Councillors have to date, been unwilling/unable to give a yes/no answer to the proposed “Wisley New Town” of 2,100 homes on the Metropolitan Green Belt.

    Perhaps though Councillor Hogger could give a yes/no answer on the Howard scheme?

    Please see: Council Leader Should Resign – Says Effingham Residents Association

    • Cllr Liz Hogger Reply

      September 12, 2014 at 9:29 am

      I’m happy to respond to this, but I need to take the question in two parts.

      First, as far as the Local Plan is concerned, I am opposed to the inclusion within the plan of the Howard of Effingham School proposal (site allocation 69) and opposed to the insetting and expansion of Effingham’s settlement area to accommodate this. I have submitted my own response to Guildford Borough Council (GBC) on this.

      My major points are:

      1. There is no strategic need for an ‘improved secondary school’: Howard of Effingham has an excellent reputation and is over-subscribed on its current site. Although a modern rebuilt school may be desirable, it is not essential and therefore has no place in the Draft Local Plan which is a strategy document.

      2. The amount of housing proposed as enabling development (310 homes) would result in a substantial growth of Effingham (31 per cent) contrary to the Settlement Hierarchy which categorises Effingham as a ‘Large Village’ – defined as a village unsuitable for substantial growth but capable of accommodating a proportionate extension.

      Secondly, a planning application is expected soon from Berkeley Homes for the rebuilding of the Howard of Effingham School, plus enabling development of nearly 300 homes, on the same green belt land identified in the Draft Local Plan.

      That application must be considered on its own merits in the light of current planning policy, so it will need to put forward a strong case for very special circumstances of educational need to justify the use of so much green belt and answer significant concerns about the infrastructure implications, especially traffic generation.

      I will of course reserve judgement on that until the application comes before the Planning Committee.

      I might add that I am also opposed to the Draft Local Plan proposal for a new settlement at the former Wisley Airfield, but I won’t take up more space explaining why.

      Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

  4. Michael Bruton Reply

    September 13, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    May I ‘thank’ Cllr Hogger for her weasel words. Do politicians ever say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a straightforward question? The Tories and Lib Dems are as bad as one another in Guildford.

    In the May 2015 Borough Council Elections there will be Independent candidates in many of the wards who do not hide behind convoluted language and obfuscate on vital issues.

    Effingham, I gather, will have such a candidate who opposes the Berkeley Homes Plan to dump 300+ extra homes on Effingham – whilst, of course, supporting any necessary refurbishment/reconstruction of the Howard of Effingham School on its existing site.

    There will be therefore, a clear choice between Ms Hogger, should she choose to stand, and a candidate who gives a clear signal ‘No’ to the Berkeley Homes Plan.

    Electors in general have a low view of politicians at all levels. They tend to admire those who give straight answers.

  5. Colin Cross Reply

    September 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Michael Bruton should re-read Liz Hogger’s words and hopefully it will dawn on him that they are not weasel words at all but a reasoned response that answers the questions as far as is possible in the current circumstances.

    His insults are unbecoming.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election.

  6. Liz Hogger, Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham Reply

    September 14, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    As a current member of the planning committee it would be irresponsible of me to give an opinion on a planning application expected to be submitted mid October.

    I find it disappointing that when I answered Micael Bruton’s question clearly, with respect to the Howard of Effingham School proposal in the Local Plan, and gave a responsible answer about a specific planning application, I am accused of weasel words.

    Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

  7. Ben Paton Reply

    September 14, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    The lady protests long and hard.

    I submit one council vote for your consideration. On 26 February, 2014 the council met for an extraordinary meeting to consider a petition signed by 1,100 people (before it was closed to new signatories) presented by Mrs Parker (for Guildford Greenbelt Group). It asked the council to ‘prepare a new SHMA [Strategic Housing Market Assessment] and to reject the consultant’s report as inadequate’.

    The council’s press release stated:

    “…the Council considered this e-petition and agreed the following response to it:

    para 5. ‘The Council does not disagree with the major part of the e-petition…’

    para 6…’We cannot agree with the e-petitioners’ view that the SHMA ‘will be subject to challenge’ and that we should immediately discard it, not least because such action would also be premature as the report has yet to be finalised.

    ‘In a recorded vote, 36 councillors voted in favour of the above response and two councillors voted against with no abstentions.’

    From recollection (as one of the speakers for that petition) I believe the record will show that all the Lib Dems voted against the petition. Again from recollection, I think that the two councillors who voted for the petition were Bob McShee and [the late] John Garrett (both Conservative).

    Whatever the fine detail, the broad conclusion is the same: the Lib Dems supported the SHMA and the local plan against the 1,100 petitioners.

    While on occasion the Lib Dems have criticised the draft local plan they have not been an effective opposition.

    Readers can see my contribution to that debate on Youtube and form their own opinion:

    Mrs Hogger’s efforts to portray the Lib Dems as guardian’s of the green belt is similar to that of the council leader’s for planning’s efforts: not very credible.

    On a different but important issue not one councillor of a any party (and certainly not the Lib Dems) has had anything to say about the manifest failures to uphold the council’s code(s) of conduct. They are all therefore complicit in failing to uphold their own standards. Who should be ashamed?

    Ben Paton is the Conservative candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election.

  8. Michael Bruton Reply

    September 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Well – simple questions then:

    1.Do councillors/would be councillors support building on the green belt Y/N
    2.Do councillors/would be councillors support the Howard of Effingham School plans Y/N
    3.Do councillors/would be councillors support 2000+ homes on the former Wisley Airfield Y/N
    4.Do councillors/would be councillors support building 2000 homes at Gosden Hill Y/N
    5.Do councillors/would be councillors support building 2000+ homes on Blackwell Farm

    NB All the above involve building on the Metropolitan Green Belt

    I just like straight answers to straight questions. These questions are relevant to any political party seeking the support of voters – now or in May 2015.

  9. Ben Paton Reply

    September 14, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    As a candidate for election in Lovelace perhaps I may be permitted to answer Mike Bruton’s questions? Any one wishing to respect the rule of law and due process ought to respond to questions as follows:

    1) “The essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence” (National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) para 79)

    2) “As with previous Green Belt policy, inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.” (NPPF para 87)

    3) Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan. NPPF para 83.

    ALL councillors should therefore have no difficulty in answering all Mr Bruton’s questions with a no unless the proposed development is:
    a) sustainable e.g. from an environmental and infrastructure perspective;
    b) changing the Green Belt boundary is justified by “exceptional circumstances”;
    c) endorsed and adopted by a public local plan process after proper consultation with all the relevant parties.

    The problem with the draft local plan is that it has not respected the rule of law. It does not set out any exceptional circumstances, some of the sites are demonstrably not sustainable, and some elements of the public consultation are a sham.

    Councillors have not apprised themselves of the legal meaning of the words “exceptional circumstances” and have instead chosen their own armchair experts interpretations.

    Some councillors have stated in council that the Local Plan itself constitutes an exceptional circumstance. The courts have ruled the opposite.

    Some councillors have stated that the council’s green belt topic paper, issued half way through the consultation, sets out the council’s “exceptional circumstances” but it does no more than set out a conjecture about circumstances that have not yet arisen.

    This wishful thinking conveniently allows councillors to offload all the development they don’t want in their own backyards onto the green belt.

    Not much respect has been paid to the word ‘permanent’ or to the legality of what has been proposed.

    The Green Belt and Countryside Study did not even consider the issue of exceptional circumstances. It therefore put the cart before the horse. Many essential studies on transport, sustainability, and heritage assets etc have hardly begun let along completed. The work has not been organised in a coherent manner.

    The professionalism and integrity of the process is called into question and the prestige of the council has never been lower.

    Ben Paton is the Conservative candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election.

  10. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 15, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Here’s another simple question. Will any councillor, of any political stripe, call for a vote of no confidence in the council leader Mansbridge? This is long overdue, given his behaviour, and recent utterings.

  11. Colin Cross Reply

    September 16, 2014 at 12:39 am

    I would like to thank Michael Bruton for wanting a simple answer to each of his questions regarding the Local Plan.

    I have no significant variances with the responses put by Ben Paton earlier today. That should not surprise you as he and I are both GGG members, as are you.

    Perhaps it is time to turn our guns on the real enemy instead of shooting ourselves in the foot? For my part, I bear Ben no ill will but would like the debate to be elevated.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election.

  12. Raymond Woolfson Reply

    September 17, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    The Local Plan was indeed prepared in an unseemly rush and as a result, in my view, is not fit for purpose.

    I have made numerous serious attempts to get to grips with the Draft Local Plan. I have read countless pages, some of which are no longer even relevant – such as “the results were not considered helpful to the Council’s assessment… and the methodology was altered”. This has resulted in a huge number of frustrating hours trying but completely failing to comprehend opaquely worded documents which are unsuitable to be read by ordinary people.

    Take the Green Belt & Countryside Study as an example. The webpage is a total mess (a dog’s breakfast comes to mind) of different documents. Little or no effort has gone into attempting to make it user friendly (in fact the opposite is the case).

    I had a look at study documents on the CD which Guildford Borough Council (GBC) lately produced to see if that is any easier to understand. I counted 49 separate folders containing no less than 1,362 pages. And this is a small fraction of the entire Draft Plan. I wonder who can possibly cope with the sheer volume of this Draft Local Plan. Do any of us have the strength to tackle such a huge amount of abstruse information?

    This plan has not been written to be read by ordinary people and as such contravenes the first principle in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). GBC has failed to submit a distinctive Draft Local Plan in a reasonable and clear format. As a result I and many others have failed to get to grips with our Draft Local Plan. To quote the Right Hon Greg Clarke, Minister for Planning in his foreword to the NPPF, “people have been put off from getting involved because planning policy itself has become so elaborate and forbidding – the preserve of specialists, rather than people in communities”.

    The NPPF in its core planning principles, paragraph 17, calls for “succinct local and neighbourhood plans”; namely plans characterised by verbal brevity and conciseness. Would anybody honestly describe Guildford Borough Council’s Draft Local Plan as succinct?

    Although GBC encourages people to “Be part of the plan” and to participate in the democratic process, GBC must know full well that this task is beyond the ability of most residents of Guildford due to the complexity of the Draft Local Plan and its supporting documents.

    The consultation should be a collective and democratic enterprise empowering local people. Instead, many people think that the Draft Local Plan is so voluminous that, heaven forbid, there may be a deliberate effort to obfuscate.

    We are still in a consultation phase and there remains an opportunity for GBC to put this matter right. I hope that it is not too late to remedy this………

  13. Colin Cross Reply

    September 18, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Surely we can all agree with the assumption that the plan is not fit for purpose?

    The next question is can it be adapted to resemble a well-reasoned plan? There is a huge body of evidence and opinion that screams: “No it cannot!”.

    The undeniable conclusion is that we must start again and write a new plan.

    The sooner that the Tories in GBC snap out of their delusional state the sooner this vital and overdue process can begin. They must see by now the plan is doomed ?

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election.

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